In each of our podcasts, we ask top hardware entrepreneurs the same 10 questions to better understand the challenges and best practices in starting a hardware company. In Episode 3 of Season 1, Lemnos’s Eric Klein speaks with Peter Platzer, the CEO of Spire, formerly NanoSatisfi.
- Why did you start your project? and
- What did you do before deciding to start a hardware startup?
I am a high energy and fusion physicist. I got really lucky in my youth. I got to spend some time at CERN and the Max Planck Institutes, and got to touch very, very large hardware. I was crawling through a fusion reactor at the Max Planck Institutes that I was writing my thesis on. It was an unparalleled inspirational experience.
And I always had this drive towards space, but it was, back then, too government-driven, so I followed my other passion, which was business, and joined the Boston Consulting Group. They then sent me to Harvard Business School, where I ended up starting a finance company—a quantitative training company. Then I ended up going back to International Space University in France and spent a year researching and studying anything about nanosatellites and the space industry, everything from the finance side, to the business side, to the legal side, which then culminated in a summer at NASA here in California, which then launched us into NanoSatisfi.
- Have you always been a Maker?
I mean, I’ve been tinkering with electronic circuitry and soldering since I was eight, nine, 10 years old; and I’ve been building those computers where I basically bought those components, figured them out, put them together so that I can compile faster. I basically always had the single fastest computer that you can build at any point in time.
- What is your day like?
More prominently early on, I had to drive almost every single process in the company. I was deeply involved in both the mechanical engineering parts, as well as the electrical engineering part, as well as the legal, business, and fundraising sides. Now my involvement is not as much in the day-to-day detail, but more in the higher level, steering and direction of the company. I’m more like a firefighter. For example, two days ago, they said, “Hey, Peter, we’re having a tough time getting a hold of vendor XYZ. You are our best enforcer, right? Can you give them a call?”
- What’s the hardest part about being a hardware startup founder?
I think the hardest part of being a founder is dealing with people saying, “This is completely stupid. It will never work. It’s impossible.” If you’re a founder, it’s basically like disqualifying you as a person. And dealing with that, not taking it personally, and actually saying, “Okay, tell me why it is stupid.” I’ll ask the question seven times, “Why? Why? Why?” because nine out of 10 times, there is something that you can learn. It could be that you are presenting your idea the wrong way, that it is actually a wrong idea, or that you’re talking to the wrong people. Use it to your benefit, learn, and grow from it.
- Why did you choose an accelerator?
I mean, quite honestly, I think anyone who doesn’t choose accelerator is missing out. I think it’s 100% the correct way of building. For me, the people and the energy you surround yourself with are intricately linked to your success in whatever you do. You want to be part of an accelerator where there are a number of other companies that are in the same stage as you, that face the same problems as you, that you can exchange ideas with and help each other out. Words will not describe what you emotionally go through, but being part of a group, of a team of companies, where you see other people going through that on an ongoing basis, is incredibly supportive.
And then you have the partners and the mentors of the accelerator who have a vested interest in your success. That ongoing mentorship is something that is invaluable to accelerate the growth of your company.
- What are the most important tools you use to make your product?
We have a big nice board, which tracks, not only engineering matrices, but also the business side. We track how many calls we have made, how many companies we have identified, how many letters we have signed. The actual activities are tracked across the company, and that is something that I want to expand and keep on driving, because the old adage of what gets measured gets done is truly accurate. It really drives performance.
In terms of software, Confluence has been working exceptionally well for us. It’s very easy to write a report while something is happening and then have it on a Confluence page. It’s very easy as a repository of know-how for the company.
- What advice would you offer to other founders?
Make sure you have a product. That’s why we did a Kickstarter campaign. Start with a product and not with the engineering.
- What book are you reading or TV series are you watching?
I read to escape and shut off my mind, because it’s really hard for me to do. The last book I read was a book that Brad Feld wrote about how to live with an entrepreneur. If you look at my movies, they are relatively bad Hollywood blockbusters like, “Transformers”, “Pacific Rim”, and anything that has a science fiction component to it.
- What is the best gadget you are carrying now?
We did not have time to answer this question, but if you would like to learn more about how Peter uses his multiple degrees, his thoughts on the 80/20 rule, and how he manages a growing workforce, please check out our podcast.